Exploring Old Town Quito

Tucked away between two towering mountain ranges, Quito is Ecuador’s proud capital city. Its Old Town Quito was the first urban center to be considered by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1978. Today, the colonial heritage is strikingly present in beautifully restored 16th century homes, exquisitely curated museums and a huge collection of ancient churches, monasteries, chapels and convents.

Many travelers typically bypass Quito on their way to the more popular Ecuadorian destination: Galápagos Islands. But Quito’s vibrant colors, lively music and fascinating history are just some of the great reasons to spend some time discovering the city while you’re traveling through Ecuador.

The altitude may take some getting used to but, once you’re settled, you can cover the major sights of the Old Town Quito on foot in just one day. Just make sure to set your alarm clock early and get ready for an intense (and fun!) day.

What to Do in Old Town Quito

Visit the Churches:

Old Town Quito houses some 40 churches and chapels, but there are a few that easily stand out from the rest. Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesus, which took over 150 years to complete, is Quito’s most ornate church with green-and-gold domes and gilded everything. Iglesia y Monasterio de San Francisco is the city’s largest colonial structure. Construction of the monastery began in 1534, just weeks after the founding of Quito. Although today much has been rebuilt due to earthquake damage, some original pieces remain. The Basílica del Voto Nacional is yet another of Quito’s gems with soaring towers that you can climb up to get a sweeping view of the old town Quito.

Stroll through the Plazas:

Quito is chock full of picturesque plazas to discover. But the one you’ll become more familiar with is Plaza Grande (formerly known as Plaza de la Independencia). Located in the heart of colonial Quito, the large Plaza is enclosed by some of the city’s most prominent landmarks. The Quito Cathedral, on the northeast side, is where you’ll find the ornate tomb of Mariscal Sucre, one of the leading figures of Quito’s independence. To the northwest lies Palacio de Gobierno, where the Ecuadorian presidency sits. And to the northeast you’ll see Palacio Arzobispal, a former archbishop’s palace transformed into a collection of shops and restaurants. Plaza San Francisco, where you’ll also find the monastery of the same name, was once a busy place of trade for native Ecuadorians in the past. Today, its cafés offer the perfect spot for people-watching and taking in a beautiful view of Quito. For a fun evening, head over to Plaza Santo Domingo where you will find all kinds of street performers lighting up the streets.

Discover the museums:

One of the best ways to uncover the rich history of Quito is to explore its fascinating museums. At Museo de la Ciudad, you’ll learn all about the daily life of quiteños over the centuries. Model indigenous homes and colonial kitchens make history come alive and engage you in a unique intercultural and intergenerational debate. To learn more about Ecuador’s independence struggle, visit the museum dedicated to the “liberator of the liberator”: Museo Manuela Saénz. As the partner of Simón Bolívar, Manuela Saénz was a feminist before her time, actively involved in the political and military affairs of her country. In this museum, you’ll find some of her personal belongings, letters and paintings to tell you the story of the incredible liberadora del liberador.

Check out the art scene:

Quito’s artists have painted the story of their country into beautiful canvases and sculpted the struggles of its people into remarkable sculptures. At Museo Alberto Mena Caamaño you’ll find over 600 paintings, sculptures, and archaeological pieces. Its main highlight, though, is the display of wax figures completed by artist Francisco Barbieri. This permanent exhibition was set up in 1970 to honor the victims of the 1810 assassination of 200 citizens by royalist groups in Quito. Museo Camilo Egas is another one of Quito’s premier art museums. Dedicated to the country’s first indigenista (indigenous movement) painter, the museum houses many of Camilo Egas’s paintings along with temporary exhibitions by contemporary artists.

Spend the evening at La Ronda:

Quito’s most vibrant street, you’ll find everything in Calle La Ronda from street performers to delicious cafés, workshops, hat shops and more. This small pedestrianized cobbled street, which was formerly a red light district, is now Quito’s it place for a fun evening filled with music, great food and lots of dancing.


Where to Eat in Old Town Quito

Cedron at Casa Gangotena Hotel:

Propped on the edge of Quito’s Plaza de San Francisco, the restaurant at Casa Gangotena is dedicated to celebrating Ecuadorian culture. From the elegant décor to the exquisite wine list, every detail has been carefully prepared to offer guests a memorable experience. And the food, you may ask? A wonderful combination of traditional dishes with a refined twist will leave you craving for more.

Vista Hermosa (Centro):

For those who like to enjoy their meal with a fabulous view, Vista Hermosa won’t disappoint. Located on a high rooftop, Vista Hermosa offers all the traditional Ecuadorian treats with a side of a sweeping view of Old Town Quito.

La Cuchara de San Marcos:

Vegetarians can still enjoy Ecuador’s delicious dishes at La Cuchara de San Marcos. With treats like Soy Empanadas, Soy Chorizo and Quinoa Salada on the menu there’s no reason why vegetarians have to miss out on the tasty traditional cuisine.

Where to Stay in Old Town Quito

Hotel Patio Andaluz

Located in a restored colonial home, this elegant boutique hotel will leave you just 150 meters from Plaza Grande. After exploring all the major sights in colonial Quito (which you’ll find within easy walking distance), sit back at El Rincón de Cantuña where you’ll find the finest Spanish and Ecuadorian cuisine.

Casa Gangotena Hotel:

Casa Gangotena has some of Quito’s best food and it has to be one of our top recommendations for places to stay in the city. Set right on Plaza de San Francisco, this colonial-style hotel is perfectly located for those looking to explore Old Town Quito on foot. The hotel’s terrace offers panoramic views of the city center.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *